The very thing that makes Holy Island special is also the thing that visitors need be most aware of – the tides. The island is connected to the mainland by a causeway several miles in length. This is covered for about five or six hours each high tide, i.e. twice a day. As the tides vary, so do the safe crossing times. It is essential that you consult the tide tables before your visit and plan accordingly. And don’t trust your eyes – the causeway may look clear but if you are already past the advertised safe crossing time, don’t start to cross – the tides here are unpredictable and can sweep in very suddenly indeed. It is not for nothing that a small refuge is provided halfway across the causeway – many drivers have been caught out in the past and forced to abandon their vehicles and seek safety here while the waters inundate their car!
Tables are also displayed throughout the village (see photo four) and in eating and drinking establishments. Locals may warn you too if the tide is due to turn – we were once asked before being served food in a pub if we knew that the safe crossing time was almost past, but as we were staying over that night it was not a problem for us on that occasion.
It’s worth asking locals about the tides too. On the day we were to leave the island, with a lengthy drive in front of us, we mentioned to our B&B host that we would have liked to have got away sooner than the 11.00 AM advertised opening of the causeway for that morning. His advice was that as tides were currently fairly low, it should be clear sooner than that. Sure enough, by 10.30 it was safe enough to cross, if still a bit wet in places. Don’t take any risks like this when the tide is coming in, as I said, but on its way out the situation is naturally different and local advice can be helpful.
If arriving on foot, and as an alternative to the causeway, there is a shorter, more direct, walking route across the sands. However the tide tables for the causeway do not apply to this! Please only attempt the walk in the company of a local or expert guide. Again, a refuge is provided halfway across (see photo three), but it’s a long way to swim.
These are serious warnings. Every year visitors do get stranded, and although usually rescued, it’s traumatic for them and an expensive mistake too – not to mention the costs to the local community of providing the rescue service. According to Wikipedia, a sea rescue (by Seahouses lifeboat) costs approximately £1,900, while an air rescue by the RAF costs more than £4,000.
But don’t let this put you off visiting – check the tide tables and you will arrive safely. So my next tip describes somewhere cosy to stay.
Holy Island is linked by a causeway. The causeway is accessible when the sea is covered twice a day or five hours in total daily.
It's very important to respect the tides and not to risk during straight into the North Sea. You can find out via this website, www.lindisfarne.org.uk, when it safe to cross.
The causeway is only ever properly dry on the hottest of days.
It is usual for some quite deep pools of standing water to be left on the road, especially between the bridge and the sand-dunes, where the sea-bed dips.
There will always be sand and shingle left on the road as well, especially in the main sea-bed-crossing area and just before you turn onto the island proper.
Take your time, and be aware of the possibility for skidding (and of stalling the car because you've hit standing water too fast).
You don't want to skid off the road onto the sea-bed. That is likely to be a very costly mistake...even if they do manage to pull you out before the tide comes in.
Take your time. Drive at a reasonable rate. Allow yourself time to get across safely.
It is really not a good idea to drive like a bat out of hell because you have left safe crossing too late....and it won't help anyway. Time and tide wait for no man.
Waling the Pilgrims'Way across the sands to the Holy Isle of Lindisfarne sounds very appealing.
Especially as there is now a properly set-out walking route.....St Cuthbert's Way....across the Northumberland countryside.
But please do not cross without a local guide. Although the route is marked by long poles in the sands, distances are deceptive. There are deep channels, and shifting quicksands...and the tide can come in faster than you can walk (or even run, on occasion).
There are only two refuges in the whole 3 miles or so of walk....not enough to risk an unaccompanied crossing.
So don't risk getting caught. Find a local guide to walk with you.
Or walk across the causeway , where the vehicles travel.....much safer, and not much further.
Rescue by helicopter, or drowning, will entirely spoil your walking holiday. This is not a joke.
Don't think you know better than the tide-tables.
Don't think your 4x4 or motorhome will be able to get through deep water safely.
Don't make yourself look like an idiot.
Don't risk your vehicle being written-off and the insurance company refusing to pay out because you ignored the safe crossing times.
Tide-tables for the three-mile causeway are posted at each end, and in several places around the island. They are available online (google 'lindisfarne tide times'. You can even text a number to get the right times for that day (number is displayed on the signs).
The causeway dips in the middle....it's the sea-bed, for goodness sake! The fact that it's dry at one end or the other does not mean it is safe to cross in the middle: you simply cannot guess how deep the water is just by looking.
Every year 4 or 5 vehicles get stuck, and their occupants have to be rescued by helicopter. Their vehicles aren't rescued, of course.
So why did I sit and watch around 25 vehicles cross after the end of safe time, up to almost an hour later? They were lucky that day...they all got across (although I could see by their faces that they had found it stressful).
The car in the photo had turned round. A family row is better than a written-off car (and the risk of drowning).
Far too many people are, basically, arrogant and stupid.
It's a great pity that those who are rescued are not charged for the cost of the helicopter rescue. That way, there might be fewer stupidities.
Don't be an idiot.
There is limited parking on the island, and if you follow the signs, you are directed to the main Pay and Display car Park, where you will be relieved of £2 or £3 depending on how long you intend to stay.
Lindisfarne is an island at high tide. Acces by road can only be gained by road via a causeway at low tide.
Use this for a link to find safe crossing times......
Please keep in mind that Holy Island is a tidal island and that the causeway is flooded twice a day! Make sure to check the tide table -- especially for your way back!